Think your slides are great? Ask the audience

Mike Taylor
Mike Taylor // February 1, 2017

Picture this: You’re running a meeting. You project a Word document onto the wall and basically lead a read-along session. What would everyone do?

They would snore.

So why do we build presentations that do the same thing?

Most people creating slides suffer from the presentation version of the Lake Wobegon effect (named after Garrison Keillor’s fictional town where “all the children are above average”): we believe our work is pretty good.

But the truth is we could all improve. While many presenters think they’re above average, the audience tends to disagree.

The problem: Your slides use too much text.

Presentation expert Dave Paradi surveyed hundreds of people for his annual Annoying PowerPoint Survey and found that “audiences feel that too many presenters don’t care enough about their audience to spend the time necessary to create and deliver a good presentation.”

In other words: you built bad slides.

And the #1 most annoying thing presenters do? Read the text on their slides word for word. You probably know exactly what it feels like to sit through one of these “Wall of Words” slide decks. PAINFUL!

Why is this approach so unpopular? Because it does bad job of conveying the message. It’s hard to focus when a presenter is just reading off a bunch of poorly made, text-heavy slides.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Research confirms the idea that visual slides are more effective than slides with text. (Your own anecdotal evidence probably backs this up, too: how many times have you dozed off while a presenter has turned a slide deck into an impromptu teleprompter?)

So why do we keep making slides the same way?

Maybe because it’s what we’re used to seeing or maybe it’s because applications like PowerPoint lead users down that road.

But blaming PowerPoint for a bad presentation is like blaming Word for a poorly written report. The fault, dear user, is not in our tools—the problem is the person using it.

The solution: Build visual slides.

We like pictures.

People process images faster than text and most of the information transmitted to our brains is visual. It’s no surprise that your audience would rather see a picture than a bunch of words.

Here are 3 quick changes you can make today to visually upgrade your slides.

Use Presenter View

Instead of bogging down your slides with speaker notes, move them to PowerPoint’s Notes area where they’ll still be available to you but hidden from your audience. Learn more here.

Create a separate handout

Move supporting details and other “nice to have” resources off your slides and into a handout.

Focus on one point at a time

Use animation to reveal only one point at a time… or better yet, split them across multiple slides. Slides are free. It doesn’t cost any extra to split up five bullets of text on one slide into five separate slides with relevant, engaging pictures.

To share your message and spur action through PowerPoint, it helps to understand how our brains work. In future posts, we’ll explore some of those principles along with other tips to help you craft better slides.

For now, just remember that people like visuals. If you want to do a little exploring on your own, this deck from Ethos 3 will give you a quick primer.

Do you have questions? I’d love to hear from you about your biggest presentation challenges and triumphs.